West demands access to Iran's secret underground nuclear site

The West warned Iran today that it will face fresh sanctions by December unless it can persuade the world of a “profound change” in its nuclear stance after the existence of its secret underground uranium enrichment plant was uncovered.

President Obama, flanked by Gordon Brown and President Sarkozy of France at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh, called the hidden facility a direct challenge to international nuclear non-proliferation rules and demanded that Iran act immediately by agreeing to full international inspections of its nuclear facilities.

Mr Brown accused Iran of “serial deception” and insisted that Britain was “at one” with the US and France in its willingness to implement new and tougher sanctions.

Mr Sarkozy said: “If, between now and December, there is not a profound political change on the part of the Iranian leadership, sanctions must be imposed for the sake of peace and stability." Mr Obama, determined to pre-empt the accusations of double standards to which Tehran often resorts, said: “Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear power that meets the energy needs of its people. But the size and configuration of this facility is inconsistent with a peaceful programme.”

Iran informed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on Monday that it has been building the secret site – its second nuclear facility – inside a mountain near the holy Shia city of Qum.

Although the CIA and National Security Agency have been tracking its construction for several years, Mr Obama decided it was time to put maximum pressure on Tehran by revealing its existence.

Reports from Washington indicate that Iran had learnt of the West’s move and declared the site formally to the IAEA.

The dramatic development transforms next week’s talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in Geneva from another chapter in a failed negotiation process into a critical test of President Ahmadinejad’s resolve.

Mr Obama made nuclear disarmament a central theme of his speech in Prague in April, and put non-proliferation at the top of the agenda for the UN Security Council meeting he chaired this week in New York. In doing so he cleared the way for today’s move.

“All nations have a right to peaceful nuclear energy,” he said, adding that those with nuclear weapons “must move towards disarmament".

Iran wrote a brief, cryptic letter to the IAEA saying that it had a “pilot plant” under construction, whose existence it had not revealed. Iran’s first officially declared facility is at Natanz in southern Iran.

An IAEA spokesman, said: “I can confirm that on September 21 Iran informed the IAEA in a letter that a new pilot fuel-enrichment plant is under construction in the country. The letter stated that the enrichment level would be up to 5 per cent.”

Uranium enriched to around 5 per cent can be used as nuclear fuel, but has to be enriched to around 90 per cent to be effective in a nuclear weapon. The United States, Britain and other Western countries believe that Iran has been attempting, at its plant at Natanz, to achieve a higher enrichment of uranium, although the plant has been subject to IAEA inspections.

Iran has enough low-enriched uranium but has yet to develop the higher grade for a weapon.

The IAEA spokesman said: “Iran assured the agency in the letter that further complementary information will be provided in an appropriate and due time. In response, the IAEA has requested Iran to provide specific information and access to the facility as soon as possible. This will allow the agency to assess safeguards verification requirements for the facility.”

He said the IAEA was told by Tehran that no nuclear material had been introduced into the facility.

The revelation of the second plant further complicates the chances of any meaningful progress at the scheduled talks on October 1 between Iran and six world powers, the first in more than a year.

The five permanent United Nations Security Council members and Germany will be pressing Iran to scale back on its enrichment activities. But Tehran has declared that it will not bargain on enrichment.


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